Saturday, August 8, 2015


Sometimes you just have a feeling. There is no describing it really, it’s just a feeling. Ryan Said and I had tried to fish together in late June but we were literally blown off the water by howling winds and torrential rain.( see Know When to Hold'em)  Despite the  terrible weather, I had caught a couple smallmouth, a largemouth and a small muskie, so I was eager to give it another go. We agreed to cash the rain check on  Saturday August 1.  As a former elite angler, there is no question that Ryan has fishing in his blood. Tuesday before our trip he texted me that he was going out scouting. It wasn’t long before fish pictures began appearing on my phone. He fished at least one more time before Saturday. He texted again on Thursday- get an Ontario fishing license.  Lake St. Clair  boarders both Michigan and Ontario. I had been to the Canadian side before. There were  some good grass beds in 19-21  ft of  water that held fish.  Ryan’s scouting had revealed that they were not everywhere in the weed beds, the smallmouth were orienting to isolated weed clumps. He had also scouted a few places where there were not as many fish but the fish he caught had size. 

Size. that was the key. This would be my sixth time out on St. Clair. I was looking to put a personal best smallmouth in the boat. They have become my favorite freshwater fish. Pound for pound they are the fighting-est, jumping-est and just all around trickiest fish in the lake. Some of my iBass360 colleagues refer to them as “Bad-Ass”. They are faster than largemouth, jump more than largemouth, and the chances they will find a way to get an angle on your retrieve and free themselves from your treble hooks leaving you frustrated  and muttering explitives under your breath are also higher than when fishing largemouth.  Simply said, they are a fish to respect. My personal best, 5 lbs. 4 ozs. also set on St. Clair, had been set earlier in this year and I felt that this was the trip for a personal best. As Fergie sings with the Black-Eyed Peas- “I got a feeling”.

“Meet at the Metropolitan Parkway McDonalds, 6:00 AM” was Ryan’s Friday morning text, “ bring your rain gear in case it’s rough”. St. Clair is a shallow lake so when the  wind blows consistently, the  rider typically gets wet from bouncing over the waves. I had experienced that almost every time out on St. Clair. I was ready, Ontario one-day license all laminated and tucked in my wallet. Saturday morning, I got there early, rain pants on, rain jacket ready. Drinks, snacks all ready. The wind wasn’t terrible but it was blowing steadily from the west. We launched the Skeeter with ease and were quickly up to speed bumping the waves as we headed to the first spot. I was happy I had the gear on- kept me dry.

We came to the first spot, one of those scouted for bigger fish. We were throwing big Norman DD22 deep diving crankbaits- Dobyns rod with Lews baitcasting reel. Using a casting reel helped advance one of my goals for the year- to get comfortable fishing a  baitcaster and increase casting distance without increasing bird nests.  Within the first five to ten casts it was fish on. But it was not a Smallie. It was a good eating sized walleye. Dinner. Not a bad start to the day and my first St. Clair walleye. Before long I had another walleye.  A third walleye got off at the boat. An interesting start to our bass trip. Time to move to the next spot.

On the grass beds on the Ontario side we switched to a drop shot rig, Dobyns Champion 702 SF rod and Shimano Symetre reel. The hook was tipped with a Strike King Shadalicious. We got into the smallmouth bass but there was no real size to them- 1.5- 3 lb fish and they were not exactly jumping in the boat.  Fishing was a little slow.  Ryan finally caught a sizable fish in the four pound class. He commented that it had hit on the fall. That was the key. I changed my technique. Instead of just letting the rig drift on a slow retrieve, I focused on the fall and the first few seconds after it reached the bottom. Before long I also had a big fish in the live well to be paired later with another for a two-fisted photo op before releasing.

We actually found that there were bigger fish north of the water Ryan had previously scouted.  The wind had finally settled down and the day had turned into a nice one. We were steadily landing fish now although not huge numbers. I had switched to a Poor Boy Erie Darter- a  bait that seems like Smallmouth candy. By the time I had finished a late morning snack I had  two 4 ½ pound class fish in the well. Not the personal record I had been looking for but great fish none the less. Another bite, I set the hook.  I felt a very slow heavy head shake but there was negligible upward movement from the fish. Ryan saw the bend in the rod. He immediately said “muskie”.  I thought of the possibility too.  What I knew for sure at that moment was that I had a very big fish on light drop shot smallmouth tackle. The fish started to  take line- a lot of line.  I knew I did not want to “horse it”. I loosened the drag and started pumping- a slow steady pull up and a fast reel down- as the fish would allow- being conscious of the small hook, the lighter line, and the medium fast action rod….. none of it muskie caliber.

As I slowly made headway on the fish my mind raced. Esox Masquinongy. Muskellunge. Muskie. Fish of 10,000 Casts. Freshwater barracuda. Top of the food chain for freshwater fishing. I had caught one way up north in Deep River Ontario probably ten years ago. My first. Brown fish brown bars. Perhaps a tiger muskie, a hybrid breed. My second had come only one month before in the rain with Ryan. It was no bigger than an average Adirondack Northern Pike. Fell off the hook just as I was lifting it from the water… quick release. 

My mind came to the present situation- would the leader knot hold? Would the hook bend straight? Would the razor sharp teeth just bite through the line?  As the fight continued I was certain this was not only a personal best, it was a fish of a lifetime. Perhaps even longer than any of the Dorado I had caught in Puerto Vallarta.  Then it appeared. I had it close to the boat. Ryan was leaning over the side with the net extended. I have lost many a nice fish at net time. The fish was bigger than the net. Much bigger. The thought “ would it even fit in the net” crossed my mind. One attempt. The fish took line and pulled away. I slowly turned his head for another attempt. There wouldn’t be too many of these with this equipment. The fish wasn’t really ready to be netted. But there it was.

 I had finessed it close, close enough for another attempt. It was a two part stab with the net. I worried as the fish appeared to be going right over the net- the net looked so small. A quick flip of the net angle at the same time as the fish was turning back in the direction of the net gave Ryan the angle he needed. I kept the line as taught as possible. The fish was suddenly in the net and Ryan swung it to the deck. The hook fell out of the monster’s mouth as if to say it could not have hung on to the fish one second longer.

Ryan was right about one thing. As he swung the fish to the deck he said, this fish was not done fighting. It gave the forward deck thrashing               and 

slimming. We gently extracted it from the net and unwrapped the line that had twisted around the fish in the process of getting it this far. My heart was pounding. My legs were shaking. Best fish ever, no doubt. I was muttering something like “Holy S#!T” over and over. It was a monster. Ryan weighed it in the net, subtracted the weight of the net- 32 pounds. WOW. I had only three, related thoughts: 1. Get a picture; 2. Don’t drop it; 3. Release it alive. The last thought was the most important. I did not want to hurt the fish by keeping it out of the water too long or by dropping it on the deck.  I hoisted it off the deck and into the air. Ryan snapped the pictures. I don’t know why but it never occurred to me to try to hold it horizontally. It was slippery. My grip was precarious. Its gill rakes and  teeth were amazingly sharp. My legs were still like jello. 

So, after a few snaps I lowered her over the side and began rocking it to move the water through its gills. She was breathing fine but seemed content to wait and revive.  Suddenly, we two broad swipes of her tail she propelled herself away from the boat and began her descent. Silver with green spots, Darker green fins and tail highlighted in a bright red. One healed mark on her head that indicated she had previously been in a fight with another fish or a boat. I sat down, enjoying the light breeze and the warm sun. I had no idea how much time had passed from hookset to release, I was still in a mild state of shock or perhaps amazement. Smile on my face. A real sense of satisfaction. 

As the day progressed, clouds rolled in and winds rose again from the west.  We caught a few more bass and even a few more walleye. It even rained for a brief period of time. As the waves pounded us on our  return to the dock, soaking us a few times, all I could think of was the small hook, the small Erie Darter, the light tackle and the monster fish. Fish of 10,000 casts?  How about fish of 30 years of serious fishing!  A week later I still look at the pictures, smile, and think, yep, I had a feeling.

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